Staff Columnist

Bold candidates needed for lively 2nd District primaries

Many prospects considering bid to replace Dave Loebsack

Iowa 2nd District Congressional candidiates Democrat Dave Loebsack (left) and Republican Rep. Jim Leach wait to go on air for a live debate at the KCRG-TV9 studios in SE Cedar Rapids Monday, October 16, 2006.
Iowa 2nd District Congressional candidiates Democrat Dave Loebsack (left) and Republican Rep. Jim Leach wait to go on air for a live debate at the KCRG-TV9 studios in SE Cedar Rapids Monday, October 16, 2006.

Iowa’s accidental congressman is calling it quits.

U.S. Rep Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, announced last week he will retire at the end of the current Congress, marking seven terms in office and an undefeated electoral record, which is a rarity in Iowa politics.

Loebsack was a relatively unknown Democratic activist when he rode the blue wave in 2006 to deliver a narrow defeat to then-U. S. Rep. Jim Leach, ending his 30-year career in Congress. In the years since, Loebsack has proved himself to be a surprisingly skilled politician, but an underwhelming policymaker.

I wish Loebsack and his family well during his last term in office and in retirement, but I hope my next representative will offer voters something to get excited about.

Loebsack and I go way back. We first met when he was congressman-elect on a victory tour meeting with constituents, and I was a high school junior working as opinion editor of my high school newspaper. I would encounter Loebsack again and again in the following decade, sometimes as a journalist and sometimes as a political detractor.

I worked for Loebsack’s Republican challenger during the 2016 general election. I even earned a mention that summer from my congressman during a campaign speech at the Iowa State Fair.

“Social Security and Medicare, this is a big issue, not just because I’m 63 and I want to make sure it’s there for me. But I want to make sure it’s there for all these folks out here. Adam, I want to make sure it’s there for you,” he said, pointing at me from atop the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox stage.

My candidate, Christopher Peters, was one of the only notable Iowa Republicans who declined to endorse Donald Trump in the presidential election, and it cost us. Trump carried the district, while Peters lost by about 28,000 votes.

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Loebsack has a knack for retail politics and constituent outreach, but he is not very good at his core job responsibility of making laws.

Since he took office in 2007, Loebsack has been primary sponsor of just two bills signed into law — a disaster relief package in 2008 and a healthy schools bill in 2010 — and never earned any important leadership responsibilities from his Democratic colleagues.

Progressives and some conservatives share frustration with Loebsack’s stances on key issues, such as mass surveillance and eminent domain.

Progressive Punch, which tracks congressional votes from a left-wing perspective, reports Loebsack has only taken the preferred position in 68 percent of “crucial votes” in his career. That ranks 186th among 235 Democrats currently serving in the House.

Loebsack’s departure makes Iowa’s 2nd District a tossup for the 2020 election. In a few days since his announcement, I have heard of at least a dozen people who might be interested in running for the seat.

I hope to see a robust and diverse field of candidates. My advice to the hopefuls is simple — stand for something, even if it’s politically risky. Let’s have spirited primary contests focused on big ideas, not on electability pseudoscience.

After more than a decade with a play-it-safe congressman, it’s time for something new.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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